Healthy Living Is the Real Fountain of Youth

While there's no magic bullet to guarantee aging beautifully, you can take simple steps to keep you looking and feeling younger.

From the WebMD Archives

You won't find a miracle age eraser in a bottle or magic pill. There's only one secret to looking and feeling younger, and that's better living. These seven simple steps from WebMD's top women's health experts will reinvigorate every part of your body, helping you feel stronger, more energized, and youthful -- no matter how many candles you blow out on your next birthday.

1. Bone Up on Calcium

To keep your perfect posture and avoid the senior slump, a milk mustache is the must-have accessory for every season. Milk (plus yogurt, cheese, and other dairy foods) is loaded with calcium. You need at least 1,200 milligrams of this nutrient every day, especially after menopause, when you're missing out on the estrogen that helps keep bones strong. "Oftentimes women are skimping on this big time," says Pam Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, who writes the WebMD blog, "Everyday Fitness with Pamela Peeke," and authored Body for Life for Women: A Woman's Plan for Physical and Mental Transformation.

If your diet is lacking in dairy take a calcium supplement, but don't just pop one in the morning and think you're done with it. Taking small doses (500 mg or less) two or three times a day helps your body absorb the calcium more easily.

Also don't forget calcium's partner in bone strength -- vitamin D. You need at least 1,000 IU of it daily, too. To preserve the calcium you do have, cut back on the vente double espressos. "Caffeine is one of the bad boys," Peeke warns, because it interferes with calcium absorption.

2. Ban the Tan

Remember the summers when you used to slather on the baby oil and sun worship for hours? As you get older, your payback for those golden tans is extra lines and wrinkles, plus an increased risk for skin cancer. But it's not too late to stop and even reverse sun damage. Stay out of the sun as much as possible, and wear a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen when you do go outside.

To erase some of the wrinkles and damage you've already accumulated, ask your dermatologist about using a prescription-strength vitamin A cream, one of the few anti-aging products that lives up to its hype.

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Want to look instantly younger without spending a penny? Cheer up! "I think that stress and emotional strain are aging. People purse their lips, they frown, they look anxious," says Marianne J. Legato, MD, FACP, director of the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University. "Reduction of stress and a pleasant outlook, or at least a peaceful outlook, does improve looks."

3. Women and Heart Health

Looking 50 when you're 60 won't do you much good if you've got the heart of an 80-year-old. Heart disease is the single biggest killer of women -- deadlier than every type of cancer combined. How do your risks measure up? A big tummy is just one sign you're headed for metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms (including high blood pressure and "bad" LDL cholesterol) that boosts your odds of getting heart disease, Peeke says.

Medications can certainly help but they're not the whole story. Exercise plays a big role, too --"medicate with movement," as Peeke puts it. "The heart is a muscle. If you don't use it, you lose it." Research suggests taking a brisk 30-minute walk every day could cut your risk of heart disease in half. It'll also help trim your waistline.

4. Sleep and Beauty

There's a reason it's called "beauty sleep." While you sleep, your skin regenerates faster than while you're awake. Sleep also regulates hormones that control appetite, which is why people who don't get enough shut-eye are more likely to be overweight. How do you make sure you're getting your recommended seven to eight hours of zzzs? Make bedtime a soothing time. Turn off the TV. Play relaxing music. Read a book. "Do something that allows your mind to unwind," says Peeke. Keep your bedroom cool and dry so you're more comfortable while you sleep.

5. Be a Sexy Senior

Having a healthy sex life isn't just good for your libido. It also can relieve stress, help you sleep better, and might even make you live longer.

"The brain is the great erotic organ," Legato says. If you think sex is going to be dull, it will be, so think about sex -- and your partner -- in new and fresh ways. Plan a getaway and try new tricks to rekindle the flames of romance. If vaginal dryness is getting in the way of intimacy, use a water-soluble lubricant, which will make sex more fun for both of you. Don't have a partner? Have sex with the person you love most -- you! "Masturbation is fantastic and it works perfectly fine," says Peeke.

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6. Maintain Your Memory

Your brain isn't a muscle, but it can still benefit from a good workout. "It's called mental aerobics," Peeke says. Doing sudoku puzzles, learning a new language, or going to a museum with friends all can be part of your cognitive fitness program. Just as you alternate between cardio and strength training when you exercise your body, mix up your mental routine.

"Build your brain reserve by challenging it and having it do things it's not used to doing," says Marie Savard, MD, an internist specializing in women's health and author of Ask Dr. Marie: Straight Talk and Reassuring Answers to Your Most Private Questions. In other words, if you work with numbers all day, do crossword puzzles at night. If you're normally right-handed, try eating with your left hand for a few days.

While you're exercising your mind, don't forget to work out your body. Aerobic exercise boosts blood flow to parts of the brain that keep your memory sharp. Research finds that working out just three times a week could cut your risk of Alzheimer's by up to 40%.

7. The Anti-Aging Diet

Speaking of which … the body's middle-aged spread is no myth. Once you hit menopause, you're looking at an average weight gain of 1 pound a year. The best way to lose it is with a personalized diet plan, Peeke says. Just like you mix and match designers in your wardrobe, mix and match your diet, picking the elements from each program you're most likely to stick with.

"You pluck a little from here and you pluck a little from there and you customize," Peeke says. No matter what you eat -- eat less of it. "It takes about 15 minutes to half an hour for the brain to realize you've had enough to eat," says Legato. Start with half-sized portions and put down the knife and fork between bites so your brain has time to realize you're full.

Keeping that swimsuit-ready body also means exercising. If you're too busy to hit the gym, squeeze small 10- to 15-minute bursts of exercise into your routine. "Figure out all the ways you can trick yourself into moving more," says Savard. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park in the farthest spot at your office, and do leg lifts while watching TV.

WebMD Magazine Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on September 02, 2010

Sources

SOURCES:
National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements: "Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Calcium." 
Marie Savard, MD, women's health expert; author, Ask Dr. Marie: Straight Talk and Reassuring Answers to Your Most Private Questions, Philadelphia, Penn.
Pam Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, WebMD fitness expert; author, Body Life for Women, Rockville, Md.
Marianne J. Legato, MD, FACP, director, Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine, Columbia University, New York, NY.
University of Michigan Health System: "Calcium and Vitamin D -- UMHS Approved Clinical Care Guideline." 
Ilich, JZ, et al. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2002; 21: pp. 536-544.
Manson JE, et al., New England Journal of Medicine, 1999; vol. 341: pp. 650-658.
American Heart Association: "Women, Heart Disease and Stroke."
Mayo Clinic: "Weight Gain After Menopause." 
National Sleep Foundation: "How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?"
Chaput, JP, et al.  Sleep. 2008; volume 31: pp. 517-523.
Hall, MH, et al., Sleep. 2008;31:635-643.
Ayas NT, et al., Archives of Internal Medicine, 2003; volume 163: pp. 205-209.
Larson EB. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2006; volume 144: pp. 73-81.
WebMD Feature: "10 Surprising Health Benefits of Sex." 

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